May 9, 2011
Dear President Ouattara:
We are writing to ask that you uphold press freedom now that you have taken office. We ask that you ensure that journalists and media outlets close to former president Laurent Gbagbo are allowed to report freely, and take all necessary steps to solve the disappearance since 2004 of French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer.
In an interview with CPJ on April 15, representatives of your administration asserted that the government was not and would not be persecuting journalists, particularly those from pro-Gbagbo newspapers. “We will do everything so that they don’t encounter any problems,” Ivorian Ambassador to France Ally Coulibaly pledged to CPJ. One way to tell the world that your administration is committed to press freedom going forward is to say that you will not allow for retribution against outlets that support your former rival.
Since you took office on April 11, however, some news outlets that were favorable to Gbagbo have been attacked. On April 22, unidentified arsonists burned down the printing press of La Refondation, a media group which publishes pro-Gbagbo daily Notre Voie, according to the Ghana-based press freedom group Media Foundation of West Africa. Then officers of the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) prevented a group of journalists from surveying the damage at Le Refondation on April 28, according to the Group of Press Editors of Ivory Coast (GEPCI). One of the officers fired in the air to disperse the journalists, according to GEPCI, and forces are requiring a pass from your headquarters to access La Refondation’s premises, according to local journalists. Finally, the offices of two other pro-Gbagbo news outlets, Le Quotidien d’Abidjan and Le Temps, as well as the state-run Ivorian Press Agency, were also destroyed, according to local press freedom group the Ivorian Committee for the Protection of Journalists.
Journalists from Notre Voie and Le Temps and other outlets perceived as favorable to Gbagbo–such as dailies Le Nouveau Courrier and Fraternité Matin–have gone into hiding after reporting anonymous death threats since you have been in office. On April 15, journalists from Le Temps and Le Nouveau Courrier received an anonymous email with the subject line: “Your days are numbered.” The email, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, read in part, “You journalists of Gbagbo, you will see, we will pursue you […] There will no longer be press freedom here in Ivory Coast, we will kill all of you maggots of Gbabgo.” The threats prompted Le Temps, in an editorial posted on its website, to accuse the government of drawing up a purported list of 17 journalists to be eliminated. In an interview with CPJ, one of your spokesmen, Amadou Coulibaly, denied the accusations, calling them “fantasies.” He denied any government involvement. “There has never been any list, never.”
However, we are disturbed by comments made by radio host Jean Soro of government-controlled Radio Cote d’Ivoire during a live call-in program on April 17. After a listener called the program and singled out Le Nouveau Courrier as an example of a pro-Gbagbo newspaper that allegedly incited hatred, Soro declared on the air that all those who sympathized with Gbagbo will be dealt with, according to local journalists. This contradicts your own public statements urging your supporters not to seek revenge.
Separately, Ivorian Ambassador to France Ally Coulibaly pledged on April 13 that the government would do all in its power to solve the disappearance of journalist Kieffer. We call on you to ensure that this pledge becomes reality. Kieffer went missing after an April 2004 kidnapping in Abidjan while he was investigating corruption in the cocoa industry.
Mr. President, your spokesman Amadou Coulibaly, while speaking to CPJ earlier this month, dismissed any suggestion the government was persecuting journalists. “There is nothing organized to hunt down journalists,” he said, calling attacks against news outlets as “economic looting rather than acts of repression.” However, we believe that some of the attacks carry political motives and that some of your supporters and security forces under your control are exacting revenge on critics in the press. Your leadership in holding to account those under your authority is therefore critical.
In the interest of the democracy and the rule of law, we call on you to ensure that all journalists can report freely without fear of reprisals. We call on you to promote accountability by holding to account members of your administration and security forces involved in abuses against the press.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.